WALTON, Ky. - It was January, 2012, when Howard Stevens first began noticing what he termed suspicious activity near his home on Old Stephenson Mill Road in Walton.
Stevens, who served with a Military Police Unit in Iraq, and his neighbors suspected that drugs were being sold at a house on the street. They knew they had to act and began to keep an eye on the property.
The residents also wanted to form a block watch, so they took their concerns to Walton City Council and were surprised at what happened next. Checks with the Boone County Sheriff's Office revealed there had been 800 calls for police services on the street during one 30-day period.
That was all the inspiration Stevens needed to bring the Old Stephenson Mill Road Block Watch from concept to reality. It now has 30 members.
"We all got kids and stuff like that and we want the neighborhood to be safe," he said. "I care about what happens in my neighborhood. I care about what happens to my neighbors."
Information given to police by block watch members is being credited with aiding in the arrest of five people Wednesday on charges of heroin trafficking and selling drugs within 1,000 feet of Walton-Verona High School.
For example, the members noticed vehicles would pull into the driveway of one particular house, the occupants would go inside for a short period of time and then leave. Stevens said it happened time and time again.
"It wasn't a situation where anyone was moving or something like that so it was out of the ordinary," he said. "We took note of the license plate number and we turned in the activity and address to the sheriff's office."
One of the five suspects arrested, Shyly Harrison, 24, of Verdin Avenue in Westwood, works as a bus driver for First Student, transporting children to and from Cincinnati Public Schools. Neither First Student nor Cincinnati Public Schools officials returned calls on Thursday seeking comment.
Northern Kentucky Drug Strike Force Director Bill Mark said Harrison even had a weapon with her when she was taken into custody.
"It was apparent to us that this woman was working her bus route in Cincinnati and once she was done taking these kids home from school in Cincinnati, she was coming down to Walton to sell heroin to people down here," he said.
The other four arrested were Robert Dupree, 28, and Kayla Stubbs, 25, of Old Stephenson Mill Road in Walton, Richard Lauderman, 28, of Kuchle Drive in Walton and Daniel Delfin, 19, whom police said was homeless.
Mark said citizen involvement played a key role in cracking the case.
"Once we identified these addresses, we started doing some undercover work and made numerous undercover purchases of heroin," he said. "We wrapped this case up Wednesday with the execution of the search warrants and the arrests."
What was the source of the heroin? Mark said it came from Cincinnati and the five suspects allegedly were making multiple sales of relatively small quantities of the drug.
"I think these people had a corner on the heroin market in Walton," he said, adding there were several instances of drug overdoses on the streets where the arrests were made. "I think taking these five people off the street will make a big impact in this town."
Stevens said his block watch members are ecstatic about the arrests.
"Everybody's happy," he said. "We know that it's just the beginning, but it's a good beginning."
Would the arrests have happened without the block watch? Mark said he wasn't totally sure, but added that he feels the involvement and the public outcry in the neighborhood definitely moved the investigation along.
"I wish that more folks would take an active role in drug trafficking investigations," he said. "When you see something suspicious in your neighborhood don't ignore it. Take the time to pick up the phone and call law enforcement and bring it to their attention."
One thing Mark wanted to make clear to the community was the fact that the investigation did not turn up any connection to Walton-Verona High School, which was clearly visible from the homes where the arrests were made.
"There's no indication at this time that there were any customers that were high school students and certainly none of the traffic involved the property here," he said.
If convicted, Dupree, Stubbs, Lauderman and Delfin could face prison terms of up to 10-years. Harrison's sentence upon a conviction could be up to 20-years, since she's accused of trafficking in heroin while in possession of a firearm.